Why Surrogacy Violates Human Dignity

Surrogacy became mainstream when in the 4th season of the popular sitcom, Friends, the ever-spacey Phoebe became the surrogate mother of her brother’s children, in the episode titled “The one with the embryos.” The episode’s writer noted this had never before been seen on television—the story arc was considered “risky” and writers were concerned that it was “too crazy … where’s the line with Phoebe?” It was a smash hit.

The narrative continued into the 5th season when in the hundredth episode of the show Phoebe gave birth to her own nephew and two nieces. The show depicts her struggling with letting the babies go, but ultimately the choice to gestate and birth her brother’s kids is portrayed as an admirable self-sacrifice. Undoubtedly, this storyline helped to dispel much of any remaining natural opposition to the idea of being pregnant with the genetic children of another couple.

It should come as no surprise then that some seventeen years later Yahoo is featuring a series celebrating the many ways families are formed today. One article in the series retells the story of Finnean Lee who was born into the world courtesy of the oldest woman ever to give birth in Illinois—his own grandmother.

A 2012 article headline was direct: “Woman Gives Birth to Own Grandson.” The more recent article explains the “painful and traumatic time” during which Sara Connell and her husband Bill endured 6 failed IVF cycles, the stillbirth of twins, and a miscarriage. This eventually led them to accept Sara’s mother’s “extraordinary offer” to gestate and birth her own grandchild.

Anyone who has faced the cross of infertility, endured a miscarriage, or suffered through a stillbirth knows first-hand the kind of suffering endured in these most difficult moments of life. Having recently borne one of these crosses, I know the value of compassion, support and prayers offered by loved ones and strangers alike. But I also know how vital it is to respond to the cross we bear in a way that is in accord with human nature, honors marriage, and respects the rights and dignity of children.

The Church is clear—every child conceived is imago dei and is precious in God’s sight. At the same time, the Church rightly identifies specific methods of achieving pregnancy that are immoral, and she calls upon couples to reject these methods. One can be critical of the means chosen while being careful to never attack the person who is the product of the immoral method of achieving pregnancy.

The Church articulates her doctrine about surrogacy most directly in Donum vitae, a 1987 document of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith that responds to contemporary questions about respecting the origin of human life and the dignity of procreation. Like in vitro fertilization, surrogacy is “contrary to the unity of marriage and to the dignity of the procreation of the human person.” Surrogacy allows another to enter into the marriage covenant—another woman, by plan, carries a husband’s child. Though popular media has dampened it, there is a natural aversion to such proposals as renting a womb, a stranger giving birth to a child that is not her own, and a grandmother giving birth to the children of her son-in-law. A child has a natural right to be conceived through an act of love, to be nurtured in the womb by his own mother, and to be birthed by his own mother. Surrogacy offends these basic rights, and deprives him or her of the dignity of being carried, nurtured, and birthed by his own mother.

For this reason, Donum vitae emphasizes, “Surrogate motherhood represents an objective failure to meet the obligations of maternal love, of conjugal fidelity and of responsible motherhood; it offends the dignity of the right of the child to be conceived, carried in the womb, brought into the world and brought up by his own parents; it sets up to the detriment of families, a division between the physical, psychological and moral elements which constitute those families.”

Surrogacy offends the marital covenant and it treats the body of the surrogate mother as an object of use, and if money is involved, an object to be rented. Such an act is beneath her dignity. And let us not forget that surrogacy requires the creation of a human being in a laboratory and outside of an act of love between husband and wife. In the lab, his creators manifest little concern for the life of each individual human being created, and his status vis-à-vis his laboratory technician creators is that of a product that may be discarded. (In the case of Sara and Bill Connell, a conservative estimate is that at least 50 embryonic human beings died so that Finnean might be born). This—and each of the above ethical concerns—is truly tragic.

While the children who enter the world through surrogacy are precious, and those who choose surrogacy undoubtedly act with the best of intentions, often in the face of great suffering, it does not change the objective truth that such an act is against human nature and divine law and thus cannot be a good act nor lead to the flourishing of those who choose it. In her article, Sara Connell makes a strenuous effort to push away her own natural opposition by covering it with euphemisms and emotional language and does so by adopting phrases such as “act of generosity,” “empowering,” liberated and empowered,” “normalized” and “something to celebrate.” But re-describing an act in glowing terms does not change its nature; it does not change what it is.

Surrogacy crosses numerous lines that should not be breached because this method of “starting a family” fails to honor the marriage covenant and the right of every child to be brought into the world by his or her own mother through an act of love.

Arland K. Nichols


Arland K. Nichols is the founding President of the John Paul II Foundation for Life and Family.

  • denis

    What is your view if a woman is about to have an abortion and another woman wants to carry the fetus to term?

    • Augustus

      You think you are clever but your question is ridiculous. Why would a woman who wants to kill her child willingly undertake a surgical procedure to transfer her embryo to another woman? The ends don’t justify the means if the means are unethical. The solution is to persuade the mother to bring the child to term or require it through law. And is such a procedure even possible? Surrogate mothers receive a fertilized egg from a lab, not another pregnant woman.

      • Unwilling, your scenario makes sense. Unable is a different story entirely.

    • Asmondius

      Meaningless speculation with no basis in fact.

  • Thank you Mr. Nichols for this timely article. Below is a link to an article that was written by a priest of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, which goes into the arguments from the natural moral law a bit more deeply, for anyone that is interested.


    Michael Crichton said that the dinosaurs in his book “Jurassic Park” were a metaphor for biotechnology which was, at the time (1990), virtually unregulated and poised to run amok in our world just as the dinosaurs run amok on the island in his book. And attempts to control it will be as ineffective as those used against the dinosaurs.

  • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

    Millions of the French (of all people!) ‘got it’ at once and marched. Surrogacy and ‘baby-buying’ is an essential component of so-called ‘gay marriage’ and the ‘families’ it creates. Third World rent-a-womb is the ‘last word’ in exploitation and even ‘progressives’ were in the one man/one woman marches.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      French law on the subject is instructive. The practice of « gestation pour autrui » [gestation on behalf of another] is forbidden, whether using the surrogate’s own ovocyte, or that of another. For the Pécresse Commission on the Family and the Rights of the Child, this prohibition embodies an important ethical principle, enshrined in the law of France, that a child cannot be the subject or source of a transaction.

      The French courts were of this mind when, on 31 May 1991, a plenary session of the Court of Cassation, the country’s highest civil court, condemned recourse to surrogate gestation by invoking Art 1128 of the Code Civil, which provides that “only things in trade can be the subject of an agreement.” The court regarded as a perversion of the institution of adoption the plenary adoption of a child when this is only “the final phase of an overall process designed to enable a couple to take into their home a child conceived under contract and requiring that child’s abandonment at birth by his or her mother.”

      French law erects further barriers to the commercialisation of the reproductive process. There can be no ownership of human gametes or embryos; this is excluded by Art 16-1 of the Code Civil, which provides that “The human body, its elements and its products may not form the subject of a patrimonial right.” Nor can they be bought or sold, for Art 16-5 reinforces the general prohibition of Art 1128, by providing that “Agreements that have the effect of bestowing a patrimonial value to the human body, its elements or products are void.” Finally, out of an abundance of caution, Art 16-7 provides that “All agreements relating to procreation or gestation on account of a third party are void.”

      • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

        That last line is pure, clear and unequivocal LAW. Even I can understand it completely.

        • Michael Paterson-Seymour

          French legislation tends to be clear, concise and elegant. Rather than the detailed and complex statutes typical of Common Law jurisdictions, the authors of the Code Civil have wisely followed the maxim of Portalis: “The function of the law is to determine, by means of basic concepts, the general precepts of the law, and to establish principles fertile in consequence, rather than to go into the details of questions that may arise with regard to each particular matter.”

          Portalis, one of the draftsmen of the Code Napoléon, was a devout Catholic, who had suffered for his faith during the Revolution.

          • s;vbkr0boc,klos;

            Jean Follain, one of my favorite 20th C. French poets was a distinguished judge and a lover of language of all sorts. You are sure to enjoy his little book on French Ecclesiastical Slang (if you can find it!).

  • Secundius

    If I made Love To My Wife, and then donated my Sperm to the Fertility Clinic. Would that make a difference???

    • Asmondius

      No – you are treating your potential offspring as a commodity.

    • Scott W.

      The Catechism puts it very well:

      –2377 Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial insemination and fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain morally unacceptable. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. The act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that “entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children.”168″Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses’ union . . . . Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the person.”–

  • JP

    Wait until a surrogate refuses to do with business with gays. What will Progressives do, then? You will have “It’s my Body” Feminists vs the “You hateful homophobe, must submit to Gay rights” LGBT types. What will Feminists do when a federal or state judge forces a surrogate to give birth to a baby for a gay couple? Don’t think it won’t happen.

  • Akira88

    While this is a fine article and the responses resonate support, this issue will continue to run amok until it’s heard from the pulpit. About 20 yrs ago a cousin had IVF x2 – one boy, one girl to order. Twenty years ago. How many since then? This is big business. It might be in the Catechism, but I’ve never heard one statement from the pulpit in all these years that that was wrong. Oh, I mentioned it to my cousin previous to the process and was spurned. After all, I had my children.

    The Church of nice has got to become the Church of real.

    • Michael Paterson-Seymour

      Surely, it does not require preaching to shew anyone not utterly depraved that there is something morally repugnant in children being treated as articles of commerce, civil status as a matter of private negotiation and women, especially the poor and those in Third-World countries, as brood-mares for the well-to-do.

      As Aristotle says, “All wicked men are ignorant of what they ought to do, and what they ought to avoid; and it is this very ignorance which makes them wicked and vicious. Accordingly, a man cannot be said to act involuntarily merely because he is ignorant of what it is proper for him to do in order to fulfil his duty. This ignorance in the choice of good and evil does not make the action involuntary; it only makes it vicious. The same thing may be affirmed of the man who is ignorant generally of the rules of his duty; such ignorance is worthy of blame, not of excuse.” (Ethica Nicomachea Bk III. 1-2)

      • Antonja Cermak

        Perhaps women in poorer nations don’t mind being brood-mares if they are paid well? Shouldn’t they have the freedom to decide one way or another? I tend to reject paternalism and prefer autonomy of actors.

        Also, this critique doesn’t answer the question of the grandmother who bore her grandchild as an act of love, not commerce. I’ve heard of sisters who have carried for sisters or brothers. Again, not out of commerce, but love.

        I find an elegant simplicity in the US laws toward IVF. The feds don’t intervene and states may but few do; and if one does then patients may travel to friendlier states or even nations. Paternity and maternity can always be figured after the fact of the child’s existence.

        • Akira88

          You’ve stated the ethical dilemma with surrogates/IVF. The child becomes nothing more than an I-want-it so it’s okay to do whatever one wants to get what one wants. The child becomes a commodity, a puppy, or a symbol.

          A child is not a “thing”. A child is a person. Did you know that fetal cells are found in the mother’s brain tissue decades after the birth or even miscarriage of a child? The bond occurs way before the child is born. There’s no act of conjugal love involved as God intended. It is against human nature and does not take into account the dignity of the child.

          The Grandma might really have believed she was doing something good but was misdirected. I actually see it as quite selfish. The idea that “Paternity and maternity can always be figured after the fact of the child’s existence” proves that you yourself see a child as nothing more than a by-product without dignity. In a way, it’s as bad as abortion.

          • Antonja Cermak

            No, what my comment about maternity and paternity prove is that I’m a citizen of a state that has an interest in determining paternity and maternity.

            I do know that a maternal bond exists with the child at birth. Yet my niece gave her first born up for adoption because she was still in high school. I don’t think anyone could condemn her for making that choice.

            so yes, the surrogate woman does suffer in this system. She takes the health risks of pregnancy and the loss of that bond to the child she bears. That’s why is was such an act of love for the grandmother to carry her daughter’s child. And I see nothing selfish in that choice.

            And if a third world woman is able to substantially better her family’s life, is it may actually be a good rational choice for her to do this. She is surely the best one suited to decide if the risk and pain of separation are worth the payment.

      • Akira88

        Prior to Aristotle’s wizened words, he was taught. Ethics isn’t an issue because it has traded for selfishness.

        Be very careful about referring to women in 3rd world countries as “brood-mares” – they love their children, and have better concepts of family. In the ever civilized and over educated West, family, love, dignity – all traded for technology.

    • Objectivetruth

      Agreed. My (Catholic) brother and sister in law did IVF and surrogacy two years ago. I also gave them the applicable teachings and encyclicals from the Church to read before they started the process, that they needed to take in to account the immorality of it all. Their response was to attack me. The Church does need to educate better on the immorality of IVF/surrogacy at the parish level. But it’s up to us, the laity, to possibly help the parish priests develop educational programs because our knowledge of the prevelance of it might be sometimes greater.

  • Julia Soler

    Yes, ideally children are conceived in an act of love and carried and birthed by their biological mother. But if that is not possible, then generally the alternative is not to exist. All these IVF children–many being reared by their biological parents–would not be, if their parents had eschewed IVF. Maybe that is why the parents got so touchy when their helpful relatives and (portions of) the Catholic Church condemn the acts that brought that brought their children into existence.